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Perfect Comes One Moment at a Time


There is not actually a point at which some area of our lives is going to reach perfection and remain in that gloried state for all time. This is not news to most people—and during the grim moments when I am reminded it of it again, it’s not to me, either. But in the meantime, when I am rushing from one end of the line of spinning plates to the other, sure that, at any moment, everything will be working exactly as it should, I tend to live a little bit in my own fantasy land.

I am writing about this now partly to awaken others who may live in a similar disillusioned state, but also as a way of trying to tattoo this inside my own brain so that I can, once and for all, stop this ridiculous pursuit. It reminds me of a story I heard once from an adult man who, when he was a child, thought that the goal of kick ball was to kick the ball to the person who had rolled it to him, like an odd game of catch. Naturally, since the point was really to kick the thing as far as you possibly could and then run like hell to first base and beyond, he got out every time. Because he was little, though, he just thought it was bad luck and he would try it again exactly the same way the next time. When he realized the futility of his method, he didn’t tell anyone and instead just acted like he was going to repeat his previous performance. When he kicked that thing so far into left field that the whole opposing team had to run for it, he said it was the happiest day of his life up to that moment. This is how I would feel if I could, once and for all, stop the madness and quit grasping at this notion that there is a moment when everything is perfect and, that if you work hard and live right, it can stay that way.

There is no reaching perfection and then keeping it that way indefinitely. And I know intellectually that this is

a good thing.

I need this reminder right now because last week, one of my carefully constructed plans about a small area of my life started to crumble a little. Of course I was shocked and depressed because I had been able to keep it in its exact flawless form for like three months—which is close to forever. And then, for about four days, as I was regrouping from this defeat and muttering things like, “What could possibly have gone wrong?” it never occurred to me to remember that this is life. This is the way things are. Sometimes they’re great. Sometimes things happen that change what we hoped would occur. Sometimes we have to take quick turns and we don’t quite know where we’re headed. This is what it is to be alive and in the world. There is no reaching perfection and then keeping it that way indefinitely. And I know intellectually that this is a good thing.

What I long for at this stage of life is for the reality to occur to me before I start in on how great this particular thing is going to be now that I’ve figured out exactly how to do it and how to keep it from ever faltering. I say before, not after, because that’s where the real problem lies; it’s not in the fact that it didn’t all work out exactly as I’d hoped it would, but in my dogged commitment to a result that doesn’t actually exist for very long.

I understand that having a plan makes us feel more secure and that having the plan begin to fall apart threatens that security. But I’m thinking these days that my confidence needs to be in my ability to handle whatever happens, not in some made-up, stop-action version of the world. I’m also beginning to see the impact of all of the romantic life notions I’ve ever bought into that push me into my tiny, narrow corner of good and bad. When I make a plan about my life and I convince myself that it will all be perfect if a certain set of circumstances occurs, I actually shut myself off to a whole spectrum of other events that could actually be better.

Of course this is all in retrospect at this moment, but it’s also a reminder to me to use these learned lessons more effectively next time, to maybe make a slightly looser plan or not be so married to one particular result. It would be great if other people learned this lesson from my experience, but I think I had to write this particular post mostly as a gentle tap on my own shoulder.

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